Rehnquist Record

Chief Justice William Rehnquist will be buried today at Arlington National Cemetery, and in case you’re tempted to believe the hallowing of his life that is sure to be played on the news, here’s a reminder about his record.

As a law clerk for Justice Robert Jackson in the early 1950s–when the Court was considering the historic Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation case–Rehnquist wrote a memo defending the infamous 1896 decision, Plessy v. Ferguson, which established the separate-but-equal doctrine. Rehnquist noted, “That decision was right and should be reaffirmed.” In other words, he favored continuing discrimination and racial segregation. During his 1971 confirmation hearings, after he was nominated to serve as an associate justice on the Supreme Court, he said that memo merely reflected Jackson’s view not his own. But few historians have bought that shaky explanation.

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